Mixed in with my old family photos are four obituaries that my grandmother had cut from the newspaper and pasted on a 3 x 5 card. A typical one of my great-grandmother from 1931 reads:
“GIEBLER:—June 2, CAROLINE H., wife of the late Lewis E. Giebler, aged 82. Relatives and friends are invited to funeral, Fri., 2 P.M., from Wm. F. Cushing’s, 1807 Pine st. Int. Fernwood Cem.”
That’s it. Five lines of tiny type in the original. And obviously not important enough for the editorial staff to proofread.
Compare that with obituaries today that are about a half a column long, filled with flowery language, and always with a picture, often from 50 years ago.
It’s usually the picture that gets my attention. The old hair styles and dress look normal to me and I start reading because I think it is about a young person who must have died tragically. Then I see they were born in 1926 and had been in a nursing home for years.
But I still like the pictures. I think people should be shown in their prime, a time when they have a lot of individuality and the women look hot. Past 80, we all look pretty much the same and anyone’s picture would do. There is even a country music song that says all men end up looking like monkeys. Remember George Burns? Eubie Blake? Just give us a banana and strap us into a space capsule.
I also enjoy the flowery language. I love it when people don’t simply pass on—they “fly to the bosom of Jesus,” “join the heavenly choir,” or “go home to fish in the River Jordan” (maybe even with a 6-pack, just like always). In a recent gem, the deceased “earned her angel wings and was granted her seat in heaven where she will forever be a guardian angel to all who were blessed to have known her.” Hmmm, maybe so, but, then again, maybe not. Forever is a long time. And I’m not sure heaven is a high-school-styled meritocracy. I’d rather keep my retired life.
Some obituaries of women carefully do not mention their ages, even those with great-grandchildren. I assume the deceased was always secretive about her age, but how could it possibly matter now?
And all surviving relatives were “beloved” by the deceased. The deceased’s hobbies may be listed as weekly Bingo at the senior center, gambling in Atlantic City, or watching the Flyers on TV, but their main interest is always “enjoying time with their beloved family.” Yeah, I’ll bet. More likely, they were too disabled to escape, even with their family’s help.
At least I can understand their jobs. They were waitresses, building superintendents, and insurance agents. I don’t know what future obits will say. Wait-staff person? Information strategist? Office supply engineer? Consumer sales representative?
I suspect in 1931 people only read the obituary of those they knew and had already formed their opinion about. They just needed the funeral details. Now obituaries are entertainment, often cited as the most-read part of the newspaper. I hope mine will measure up. How much do you think Garrison Keillor would charge?